Sunny days

Sesame Street- 35th Season Opening ShowSesame Street is pretty much the same age as me. I watched it throughout my childhood and credit it with my obsession with New York. So when my friend Diane bought me the book Street Gang: The Complete History of Sesame Street by Michael Davis for Christmas I was delighted (thanks, Diane!).

Even though I’ve loved Sesame Street for so long that it only recently occurred to me that there’s a person inside Big Bird, I didn’t know much about it. The book has a lot of background on how Sesame Street was thought up and produced and I’m afraid much of this was a bit of a yawn, but then the good bits – the bits about the creation of the characters, the topics addressed on the show, the actors and actors both in and out of the muppet costumes – was just great. But the absolute best thing was it reminded me of just how incredibly progressive the show was.

In the 70s they featured Buffy Sainte-Marie breastfeeding her son. The photo caption in the book said this “was a first for children’s TV”. I would have thought it was an only, never mind a first, but I looked it up on YouTube and found that they did it again (almost word for word) with Maria and her baby  (check out the first comment for a perfect example of just why this is needed). Even having the Native American Buffy Sainte-Marie as a recurring character was revolutionary: “It wasn’t until decades later that Sainte-Marie became aware that during her years on Sesame Street, her name had been listed on White House stationery as someone whose music ‘deserves to be suppressed.'”

The cast was (and remains) mixed – with the creators being particularly keen to show positive black and Latino characters (the show was originally aimed at an “urban” audience). Just to show how ahead of its time it was, a five-member commission voted 3 to 2 to block the show from airing in Mississippi because it was “not yet ready” for a show in which black, Latino and white kids played together.”

Jason Kingsley who has Down’s Syndrome appeared in fifty-five episodes “as his charming, exuberant self“. It wasn’t about him having Down’s, it wasn’t commented on, he was just one of the many children on the show. I remember Jason well and realise now he must have been the first child with Down’s I’d ever seen. The Deaf actress Linda Bove was added as a recurring character in 1979 and I’m pretty sure she was my first experience of sign language (I learned to sing Happy Birthday in sign language thanks to Sesame Street).

Something they did less well was gender equality. They were called out on this by feminists in the 70s, but argued that what they were going for in relation to black and hispanic children was more important. In response to a letter from the National Organisation for Women, who were complaining that Susan was a housewife, Joan Ganz Cooney wrote “I don’t know how useful it is to look at Sesame Street solely through feminist eyes when clearly it is trying to do a number of things for young children… We consider our primary aim of reaching and teaching the disadvantaged child a life and death matter, for education determines whether these disadvantaged youngsters enter the economic mainstream of American life or not.” Why they couldn’t teach disadvantaged children and represent women equally at the same time, she doesn’t explain.

It took the show’s producers a long time to realise all the break-out characters were male and so they created Zoe (I’m not really familiar with Zoe) and then, in 2006, Abby Cadabby. “We wanted a female lead character. If you think about the Mary Tyler Moore Show, some girls relate to Rhoda, who’s our Zoe, and some girls relate to Mary, who’s a girly girl. And we didn’t have that girl.” What I find depressing about that is that the male characters weren’t developed in this way; they were simply allowed to be whole characters. Yes, they have an MO – Elmo is about love, Cookie has his cookie obsession – but they’re not simply archetypes in the way the female characters are (or were – I’ve only seen a bit of Abby Cadabby, but I really like her and think she’s way more than just a girly girl).

I was talking to a friend recently and saying Sesame Street pretty much had everything covered, but then I wondered if they’ve ever had a gay character. I googled and found something I’d forgotten – Bert apparently coming out. I’m not sure about Bert, but this seems positive: “The Los Angeles Times noted: “In its own subtle, perhaps unintentional way, the show’s latest season feels more LGBT-friendly than ever.” It suggested that recent guest appearances by lesbian comedian Wanda Sykes, the gay actor Neil Patrick Harris, who played the “shoe fairy”, and Will.i.am, the frontman of the Black Eyed Peas, who sang What I Am, a gay anthem, indicate the direction the American show has been moving in.” I’d prefer to see a gay relationship represented in the cast, but it’s a start.

When I bought a Sesame Street DVD collection a couple of years ago, I was surprised to find that it came with a warning: “These early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grown-ups, and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.” That’s bollocks. They are perfect for today’s preschool child. No, they’re not based on the curriculum, but everything doesn’t have to be about the curriculum, does it? They’re funny (with plenty of jokes for grown-ups, but not the sexist/icky jokes so many modern kids’ films seem to think adults want), clever, inclusive and, frankly, brilliant. If you think I’m exaggerating, just watch the way they dealt with Mr Hooper’s death.

Imagining otters. Or why you’re ALWAYS writing.

UnknownA few months ago, Susie Day and Rainbow Rowell – two authors I LOVE – introduced me (via Twitter) to the Radio 4 sitcom, Cabin Pressure. I immediately became completely obsessed. It’s hilarious, addictive and brilliantly written.

One of my favourite moments is in the episode Ottery St Mary when one character says he can imagine a million otters (don’t worry about why) and another says you really can’t imagine a million anything and so they work out how many otters they can actually imagine by thinking of how many they could fit on the plane.

I mention it because John Finnemore, the writer and creator (and one of the stars) of Cabin Pressure has a brilliant blog and in this post, he wrote this:

For the origin of the otter-imagining game, have a look at this blog post I wrote three years ago. I like that I titled it ‘I am supposed to be writing a sitcom.’ Little did I know I was bunking off writing Cabin Pressure series one to write a bit of Cabin Pressure series three.

I notice this kind of thing so often. Old notes I’ve made, pictures I’ve saved, articles I’ve torn out of magazines, books I’ve bought, even songs I like, all popping up in my writing. I’ll start writing something – or planning something – and then a little ping will go off in my head and the next thing I’m rummaging around to find the perfect thing, saved before I knew it was the perfect thing.

Sometimes I don’t even remember or look, things just appear. Last week I had a meeting with an editor (I know!) and we talked about something I may write. Yesterday, I was looking through a folder on the computer – actually looking for a high res jpeg of the Emma cover – and there was a photo I’d saved at least a year ago, probably more like two, PERFECT for the thing I may write. It’s like those tweets that say things like ‘Thank you drunk me for leaving the chinese takeaway leftovers for hungover me’, but it’s ‘Thank you past me for knowing future me could use that photo.’

I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do

Last night Harry, my mother-in-law and I went to see an Abba tribute. I went to see Bjorn Again will my MIL years ago (during the interval of which she uttered the immortal words “Nice to see so many men here without their wives…”) and Harry and I saw an Abba tribute on holiday in Majorca last year and he loved it. I must admit I wasn’t overkeen on going – it was a bit of a miserable night, weather-wise, and I’ve got this stupid head-cold, which means I feel fuzzy and slightly bilious almost all the time, but off we went. And I’m so glad we did. Not because of Abba Forever – although they were great – and not because I just bloody love Abba songs so much, but because of this couple.

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Now I know you shouldn’t take photos of strangers and post them on the internet, but I just couldn’t resist. They were sitting in front of us and looked to be in their eighties at least. During Summer Night City, the band told everyone to stand and have a dance and the couple stood up and danced, holding each others’ hands. I couldn’t stop looking at them. And then the band played I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do, I Do and they sang it to each other. THEY SANG IT TO EACH OTHER!

It was just one of the best things I’ve ever seen.

How to make New Year’s Resolutions fun. No, really.

I’m rubbish at resolutions. I’m rubbish at sticking to things, even things I know are good for me and will make me happy. But I do like games and challenges and collecting points/being virtually patted on the head* and so I managed to find a few ways to make resolutions fun. If you’re a dork like me.

I read about 750 Words online somewhere (sorry, can’t remember where) and signed up straight away. If I did do resolutions, one would be to write more and faff less, so 750 Words is perfect. Plus you collect points and get badges (for, for example, writing for 3 days in a row, writing a certain number of words, etc.). I plan to reward myself for each badge. (I got the 3 day badge yesterday and bought a Sadler’s Wells book for an upcoming Twitter book club.) And, being a dork, I really love the stats:

stats

Following some links on 750 Words took me to Health Month, which I find slightly confusing (I’m not at all sure I’m doing it right), but basically you commit to a few health improvements for a month – they can be as big or as small as you like – and, again, you collect points. Mine are to drink three glasses of water, eat one piece of fruit, exercise for minimum 10 minutes each day, and limit myself to one alcoholic drink per week (I was thinking of going ‘dry’ for January, but there’s Bailey’s left in the bottle). So far, so have-made-the-same-“resolutions”-every-year-for-as-long-as-I-can-remember. But the best part of Health Month for me is that you can sign up to a reminder email for each of the improvements you choose (you do have to pay for this, but it was something like £3). So this morning when I got my ‘eat fruit’ email, I immediately went and, you know, ate a piece of fruit. No, not that big a deal for most people, but I can honestly go weeks without eating fruit usually. I leave the emails unread in my inbox until I’ve done them and since I check my inbox about a kajillion times a day, I’m reminded over and over. (A few months down the line I may well become jaded and just delete them without doing, but for now they are actually inspiring me.)

healthmonth

As mentioned in my Books of the Year post, I struggle to tear myself away from the iPad and read and I want to stop doing that, not so much because I want to read more – although I do always want to read more – but because I want to waste less time faffing about on social media. So I challenged myself to read 100 books in the Goodreads 2013 Reading Challenge.

Goodreads

Eek. Better get back to my book.

*Please note: I do not like being patted on the head IRL.